Joseph Wilson & Sons Ltd

Joseph Wilson & Sons Ltd, Wilton Street, Denton
The hatting firm of Joseph Wilson & Sons was founded in 1872 by Joseph Wilson (1841/42-1892). In 1879 he brought his eldest son, Fred (1864 - 22 August 1930), into the business and soon he was in charge of the factory. Following the death of Joseph in 1892, Fred continued to run the business with the aid of three of his brothers (William, Alfred and Joseph) and in 1900 it became a limited company.

The homes of the four Wilson brothers were:
Fred at Wood Road, Cheadle Hulme, Cheshire,
William at Chapel-en-le-Frith, High Peak,
Alfred at Mawson Hall, Cornhill Lane, Audenshaw and
Joseph on Windmill Lane, Denton.

Fred Wilson was an astute businessman, who helped to form the British Felt Hatters' Federation, and he was its president from 1910 until 1912. The business continued to expand and eventually it employed nearly 1,000 people. The types of hat manufactured included, fur, stiff and velour and besides a strong home market it exported hats all over the world.

Left: Fred Wilson, May 1909.
Right: Mawson Hall, home of Alfred Wilson.

In 1966 Associated British Hat Manufacturers Ltd (ABHM Ltd) was formed and five companies became its subsidiaries, that is, Christy & Co Ltd (Stockport), Joseph Wilson & Sons Ltd (Denton), Battersby & Co Ltd (Stockport), J Moores & Sons Ltd (Denton) and T & W Lees Ltd (Stockport). The hat manufacturing companies of Joseph Wilson & Sons Ltd, J Moores & Sons Ltd and Battersby & Co Ltd were formally wound up on the 11 February 1977.

Subsequently, hat manufacturing was concentrated at Christy’s hat works on Upper Hillgate, Stockport, but with reduced capacity. Hats manufactured here were sold under the Christy name. In 1980 ABHM Ltd sold out to Cadogan Oakley Ltd of Bradford, West Yorkshire. ABHM Ltd was later wound up and this was followed by Cadogan Oakley Ltd in 2004. In 1997 the Upper Hillgate hat works closed and was demolished in 2003. The only survivor was the resurrected Christy & Co Ltd which relocated to Witney, Oxfordshire, with premises in London.

Once hat manufacturing at the Wilton Street works had ceased it was converted into industrial units that continued until 2003 when it was demolished to make way for the Crown Point North Shopping Park.


Joseph Wilson & Sons Ltd, 18 May 1999.
Bright Street is on the right.

Detail of the frontage, 18 May 1999.

Joseph Wilson & Sons Ltd, 18 May 1999.
Bright Street is off to the right.

Inside the courtyard looking towards
the entrance from Wilton Street, 1992.

Explosion at Wilson's Hat Factory

At about 11:00am (another source states 10:35am) on Monday, 14 January 1901, a major explosion occurred at Wilson's Hat Factory in which 13 people were killed, 12 were severely injured and 39 received minor injuries. The explosion occurred in the proofing department, which was totally destroyed, and two planking shops were also damaged.

It is understood that the explosion was caused by the ignition of vapour arising from methylated spirit that formed part of a process for dyeing hat bodies. The report of the explosion was heard for miles around and in the immediate locality the shock wave felt like that of an earthquake. Windows of nearby homes were shattered and some residents were thrown violently from their chairs.

The inquest was held at the Police Court on Stockport Road on the 30 January 1901 before the County Coroner, Mr J F Price. The verdict of the jury was accidental death.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department at this time was the Right Honourable Charles Thomson Ritchie, Member of Parliament for Croyden, and on the 21 January 1901 he instructed H M Chief Inspector of Explosives, Captain J H Thomson, and H M Superintending Inspector of Factories, H S Richmond Esq, to enquire into the circumstances and probable causes of the explosion. Following enquiries, it was their opinion that steps should be taken to bring the operation of drying hats under legislative control. It was also their opinion that some precautions should be taken to prevent the accumulation and ignition of vapour in proofing-rooms.

The inspectors report was published on the 13 February 1901 and in conclusion they entirely agreed with the verdict of the jury at the inquest.

In honour of those who lost their lives [PDF File] » In Memoriam